ABSTRACT: The most trying day of the trip so far included an itinerary change, mentally-taxing trip to Yad Vashem, and a disliked seat on the bus. But, there were plenty of good things about the day too.
Tuesday, July 26 / Shlishi, 24 Tammuz
The day was on at 624h. Donning my black flowers Hawai’i shirt and navy shorts, I woke up Heedye and Jared. The packing was quick and easy today, and I headed downstairs to the elevator. There is interesting numbering here [503-504] which I really like 🙂 . Breakfast was a cereal that looked like Honey Bunches of Oats, and it was reasonable. Conversations were not much, or at least I was unable to remember any of them. In retrospect, I wish I would have taken either notes about conversations at meals or photos of who was at my table.
It was my turn to help load the bus, and I gladly helped others. Good, and exercise for me! As we drove toward Tel Aviv for that Birthright fair, the bus had a talent show, and I took some road and show pictures [505-518]. Meredith opened with a freaky act of “the little boy stuck in the closet,” and then I sang Pitkhu Li, afterwards making the claim “even though this is two days too early.” Of course, because of my inexplicable skip of days in my physical journal, it’s really six days until Rosh Chodesh. In separate acts, Eric then walked the aisle with the “wave” in his eyebrows, and Becky stuck her tongue to her nose.
Gleb did a Jersey Shore-style act, of which I didn’t understand at all. Then, Heedye did a dolphin impression after a significant amount of bridging (another way to say stalling in improv). Lina and Mike sang “My Valentine” (?), and “Sexual Healing,” respectively. Scott did 30 seconds of (c)rap (as Dan put it), and then Amanda said something in sign language that included an expletive. Rachel barked like a dog, and Eric stuffed the ballot box with a Dr. Strangelove imitation. Not as part of the competition, Dan did “Hot Cross Buns” recorder-style, using no recorder!
I’ll pass through the Tel Aviv thing in four short sentences: We came. We saw [519-527]. We escaped. Moving on.
The bus ride back to Jerusalem had the Israeli ladies talking about volunteer opportunities. We couldn’t do the original volunteer opportunity that was on the original itinerary, but a pen-pal system or English book donation seemed the popular answer. After they finished with that, I got a small amount of journaling done, and also made a PSA over the mic: “stay hydrated.” As we approached Jerusalem, Nitzan explained that we will be going to a market place (shuk).
The first standout for me was the 6/24 market . On the approach, in the lead pack (that teacher’s pet characteristic of me 🙂 ), I snapped pictures of the market and the opposite side of the street [531-534]. Under an arch, the area reeked of urine near the Dental LAB . This is our return spot at noon (the current time is 1045h).
I went with a part of our group through the market. Whether fruit, restaurants, trinkets, or even mini-gogues (failed to snap a picture of the lattermost), there was a lot in the market [536-544]. That “Nah Nakh Nakhma” thing popped up again  which reminds me of a song that ShireiNU did in the spring concert. Eventually, our squad ended up at Rakhmo [544-545]. The conversation partners at the table were Rachel, Sarah, and Meredith. Memories of vacations were brought up, from multiple sides. They are more worldly and country-ly than I, thus far. Of course, I aspire to do more travelling heading on.
With them, we returned toward the LAB. A bit away, Aaron offered me chalva, which tasted great! I also got a picture of a motorcycle license plate , just because I wanted one that shows the “IL” with the Israeli flag on it. After “misparay barzel l’hitpakeid” in the alley, we got back to the bus quickly, and boarded to clear from the public bus stop. En route to Yad Vashem, the road offered signs, stone buildings, and more for me to marvel at [547-551]. The  was especially salient given my song this morning.
Atop Mount Herzl, the gates [554-555] of Yad Vashem awaited. With the triangular prism building, valleys, and trees, this place is a site to behold! [556-566]. Out of respect (or so that’s what I interpret), the walk toward the auditorium was mostly silent, at least with the people around me. Ascending stairs and seeing greenery and Jerusalem on the right, it was a serene (but toasty) walk, as opposed to the next few hours.
Eliezer  spoke about his survival of the Holocaust. Because the whole experience at Yad Vashem overwhelmed my mind, because my notes don’t do justice to his story, and because I was way behind on the paragraphs in the journal when I got to this point in the paragraphs, I merely summarize what I had written for notes.
- Eliezer survived five forced labour camps, and met with Elie Wiesel 30 years ago to tell the story
- Prior to the Holocaust, he lived in prosperity in Poland
- When he was 11, the Nazis came in to Poland and it was clear to him that the Germans hated the Jewish people there
- Jewish people there suffered humiliation and decrees, and the places became the Ghettoes 8 months later… intended as temporary housing before transport to death camps
- In the Ghettoes, people died from starvation and “clean violence”
- He worked outside the Ghetto, with a work pass that allowed access in and out
- On August 14, 1942, he was separated from his family on a deportation day. His mom said, “You will survive because it is meant to be.”
- The work-type protection ended in 1943, and he was deported again to a concentration (i.e. forced labour) camp. Depression set in, but he became a shoe-maker
- Deaths in these camps were due to hunger, freezing, or disease. At times, the doctors made choices as to whether to move people to another labour camp or a death camp
- In August 1944, he was shipped to Austria in a box-car, and his number was 84991. People who forgot their numbers were killed when asked for it
- He dug tunnels in 8-hour shifts each day
- In February 1945, he was deported to yet another concentration camp, and at wakeup call, people were forced to bring corpses that were next to them
- In April 1945, he had a “death march” to another camp
- On May 6, 1945, the roll call was a trick: “The war is ending. Go to the tunnels.” These tunnels had dynamite, and the prisoners didn’t go. The guards escaped and the Americans came in shortly thereafter
- At age 17, Eliezer weighed only 39 kg
- He moved to Italy, where he served in a Jewish brigade, before settling in Israel in November of 1945…
- …and he and his girlfriend joined the IDF for the Independence War, getting married in uniform later.
- Today was his 80th birthday.
- His key point: “Make sure that the Holocaust never happens again. We must all speak out against senseless hatred.”
After this enlightening-but-frightening story, we went to the “school” building . Descending two flights of stairs, I desperately used the restroom (gee… it seems that overactive bladder is my travel malady this time. At least it’s a minor annoyance at worst!) Looking at a hallway, some posters echoed Eliezer’s message: to never let the Holocaust happen again, and to speak out against senseless hatred [570-571].
Going outside, we walked around with static in headphones that we had picked up in the school building: they’re personal GuidePorts that track the guide’s voice, similar to that museum in Topeka that I visited in tenth grade on a field trip. At the main entrance to the memorial, there were two paths. The right led to the garden of the “righteous people of the nations” , and the left, across a bridge, was the “path of the Nazis” . The details are mostly ignored, for a few reasons. First, no photography was allowed inside the museum. Secondly, this was very taxing on my mind. Thirdly, for the same reason as before, when I got to this point in the writing of the journal, it was Thursday afternoon, and my mind was not clear then either. (Ha–I get to throw in a cliffhanger for those of you hearing my story for the first time!)
- Inside the triangle, the walls were all grey. There was a montage of actual Jewish footage prior to the Holocaust
- Life was diverse back then, kids went happily to school, and the montage included audio
- In this part, the guide indicated that the floors here are all made of concrete. Symbolism!
- Klooga was a death camp in Estonia. Soviets found bodies burning there and the guide told us the story of [illegible]
- Hitler’s agenda was written in “Mein Kampf”
- Anti-Semitism has been around since as early as 500 CE, back then when it was anti-religion. However, Hitler was against the “race,” not just the “religion”
- Regular Germans gave in to anti-Semitic propaganda (such as games, books, and posters)
- Laws discriminating against Jews started as early as 1935 in Germany
- In a living room, a poster shows a two-fold message, with a Menorah in the foreground and a swastika in the background. The message: “Judaism will die,” says the banner. “Judaism will live,” responds the Menorah
- After Kristallnacht, although Jews could still escape Germany, there was nowhere for them to go
- The people who were anti-Hitler were killed first, and then religious Jews were systematically eliminated
- Ghettoes, yellow stars, and plundering of Jewish places were the first things
- There were no ghettoes in the west, and Lodz was the longest-lasting one. The leader several times was forced to give strategic speeches
- In the museum, the floor turns to bricks several times to return to the story of the Warsaw ghetto. Each day, people only ate at most 184 Calories
- In Warsaw, underground theatres and schools continued… they had the will to survive
- The lowest point (elevation-wise) in this triangle memorial is for June 22, 1941. This was the invasion of the Soviets, and there were killing pits with mobile killing units. Many people were buried alive
- The Final Solution was a plan to more efficiently kill the prisoners, as the repeated shootings were starting to take mental tolls on the Nazis
- In 1942, the leader of the Warsaw ghetto committed suicide, which was bad news for the prisoners
- We saw a diorama of Treblinka, and that was the straw that broke my back… I’m going vagal…
In the vagal reaction, I got dizzy, my sight temporarily blacked out, and I was sweating cold. Although it was incredibly unpleasant, I knew I would be OK after leaving the situation–I’ve had these “garden-variety” reactions before. A few members of the group helped me to sit down on a bench, and after re-hydrating, Dan led me out, as I kept my head down to avoid looking at the rest of the museum, to a “cool-down” room where quotes and names appeared on an electronic wall, to calming elevator music. He said that most people feel nauseated by the end, and that it’s hard for most people to take. Even though he’s been here several times, it’s still taxing on him, mentally.
Leaving the triangular prism with everyone else (about 30 minutes later), many of the group members showed the “are-you-okay” concern. True friends are these, as empathy is a virtue! Outside, the symbolism was the overlook of Jerusalem [574-577], the ascending floor, and the extended walls (but I failed to capture the latter two of these). I went with Dan toward the entrance as the rest of the group saw the children’s memorial. All of us walked past a pillar  en route, but I was the only one to see Schindler’s (of Schindler’s List) tree [579-580]. While waiting, Dan and I were in the gift shop, and the prices were exorbitant. There was a Kabbalah book that I chose to have Dan pose with in … aaaaawwwwesome!
There was no group post-mortem from Yad Vashem once we got on the bus—thank goodness! Instead, the finals of the talent show came—a much more fun activity! I did not make it to the finals, but we got Lina, Meredith, Eric, and Scott. Before these finals, Shiran was interviewed. Unfortunately, I could not hear a thing, as I was in the worst seat in the house (the aisle seat right in front of the rear door). Next time, I will reserve a seat on the bus early! Ergo, the pictures turned out pathetic [583-593].
The talent show finals NOW commenced. Scott led it off with forty-five seconds of rap, which was not my cup of tea. Granted, he still did well, and I won’t let personal opinions about the genre detract from the performance. Eric repeated the eye-wave with “We Will Rock You” playing in the background, improving the presentation. Lina sang “And So It Goes,” before Meredith did the ABCs with the boy-stuck-in-the-closet [594-596]. A bonus thing that wasn’t part of the show (and was DQ’d anyway) was Gleb’s improvised rap about our experience so far. The “tune” sounded like something I have heard before, but I’m not sure.
A few more fail pictures followed [598-599], and then Eric was voted runner-up, to take Lina’s place if she has to go to the hospital again (ha). Eric got a flower circlet , and Lina won a Winnie-The-Pooh fan/pen [miss]. We found a gas station, I went to the restroom, and saw a convoy of tanks fuelling. Neat! [602-603]
The desert led us past some Bedouin cities, some greenery (!), and some barrenness [604-610]. The education here: Kibbutz G’vulot was founded before 1948, as Ben Gurion said that the Jews should settle in the Negev. The greenery here is watered by dripping irrigation, a la my back yard in Lincoln, which I mentioned. The rest I couldn’t hear. For the rest of the ride, I journaled a bit, and helped out on a group crossword collaboration. We landed at G’vulot around 1900h.
As I wrote this, my camera had burnt out so that I couldn’t get the photo references while the battery was charging. Ergo, I’ll simply describe without the photo references. The photos for the rest of the day were from [611-631]. We walked a seemingly long path, turning at a fence that had a mini-basketball hoop. I was assigned to Room 41 with Eric and Mickey. Taking dibs at the bed on the window, I then used the necessary room before going to dinner.
Refreshed, I proceeded down the sidewalk to the dining hall with others. Dinner had steak as well as the usual suspects. I am having difficulty recalling who sat at my table, but the conversations seemed quite blasé anyway. As I saw the sun set, I asked anyone to snap my picture in the background, which turned out really well when Aaron obliged!
I ran back to the room to snag my light and Israel map. The assembly room was still locked, but people were flowing in from the dining hall. Nitzan had the key, and when we walked in, the room was a FURNACE! For the group activity, we started with the maps, and a synopsis of our travels so far. I couldn’t see it well from the opposite side of the room, but I’ll fill it out later. Dan modeled the map in an interesting display of balance!
The activity was Agree/Disagree. Five statements (not questions) were read, and we moved to corners of the room that corresponded to our opinion. The northwest corner was strongly agree; southwest strongly disagree; northeast (regularly) agree, and southeast (regularly) disagree. No “neutral” was allowed, but people were allowed to shift sides during the discussion. The first was: “The “disagree” side, myself included, but the discussion seemed to degenerate into what makes “ultimate Jewry” instead. As some arguments were given, people began to gravitate toward the “agree” side. The wording can sometimes change a response entirely!
The second statement: “You have to be religious to really be Jewish.” Since our group is mostly secular, I was one of only a few “agrees.” The key point seemed to be (pardon my turning into the Wicked Child here), “what means religious to you?” Although I go to services semi-regularly, that is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for religiosity. The third question: “One of the roles of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is to protect not only Israelis, but also Jews worldwide.” This received almost mutual affirmation, under the general idea: protection need not be only physical! The fourth question: “Diaspora Jews should have a say in major issues in Israeli politics.” Most people disagreed, using the USA as an analogy.
The most heated question was saved for last: “Jews should marry only Jews.” Topics like compromise, tradition, and marriage into a family (rather than to an individual) were the major arguments brought up. Several of the Americans in our group come from inter-marriages. Obviously the most difficult and contentious statement among the Americans, civility somehow remained in the conversation, relatively speaking! Toward the end, I also added a little bit of humour by literally jumping the space-object fence between “disagree” and “agree”!
After that, we all returned to the rooms. I chatted lively with Mickey, and instead of journaling, I reviewed with him the chronology of my chronicles. Extra interests came up too, and we have both done “solitaire” style tournaments, him in Monopoly and me in Pokémon TCG. Sports and “the usual small talk” also came up. After he went to the pub, I inefficiently journaled until 0030h. On one hand, I wanted to go to the pub in order to be in the presence of the group and improve my bonding, but on the other hand, I was too tired to be able to enjoy it, so I’ll just sleep. Laila tov!
>> TO BE CONTINUED…